To many people, programming is as foreign as learning another language. Sprinkle in some sci-fi mambo-jumbo and you have a large heap of jargon that you can only understand if you have a degree, right?
Although programming has a lot of moving parts, anyone can learn how to do it. You simply have to start the process.
Today, we will give you the building blocks you need to start programming. Once you’re finished reading our guide, the world of coding and computers won’t be so daunting.
Learn the basics, the importance of coding, and programming fundamentals. We will even throw in some tips to help you through the tougher parts.
To start with the basics, you need to learn what programming is and what programming languages are. We will explain both elements using jargon you can expect in any software you will use, but we will also explain what that jargon means as we go. Ready? Let’s get into it!
What Is Programming?
In all likelihood, you probably use a computer every day. Computers are any type of digital electronic machine, which means your smartphone is just as much of a computer as your laptop.
The main function of a computer is to process and store information. However, it cannot do that without a program. Imagine a factory that has room to store goods. It has the potential to organize a business, but without people (our metaphor for programming), nothing will get done.
Programming software will tell the computer how to ingest the data, process it, and then store it. Ingesting is the method of obtaining information, processing is the method of organization and usage, and storage (as you might guess) is keeping the data safe.
Software is the downloadable content inside a computer, and hardware is the physical aspects you can touch (such as a screen, mouse, or the laptop itself).
When you create a program, you are creating an instruction list for the computer to follow. The computer will do exactly as you say, which means you cannot leave room for interpretation or human understanding.
This is one of the biggest problems in programming, as we often don’t realize how much of our language is based on subtle cultural understandings instead of direct language. To make sure nothing is misunderstood by the computer, you often have to break down a process to its finest details and watch the computer complete the program multiple times.
What Are Programming Languages?
At its core, computers understand just one thing “on” and “off”. When we create a code, we toggle these on and off switches to create a language – like morse code. This language is called binary and is represented in 1s and 0s.
Through years of creativity study, the technological world has created software that allows us to speak to computers using our own language (normally American English). It works like a translating system such as Google Translate.
This means you don’t need to learn binary to start programming. As long as you know American English, you can code.
For example, Python allows you to talk to a computer in a language that is closer to human speech, whereas C is an older software that needs more delicate word choices.
Why Learn To Code?
If you are reading this article, then you probably already have a reason to start learning code. But it can be helpful to understand the many ways in which coding can help you in your personal and professional life.
Before we dive into the fundamentals, we want to explain why everyone should learn how to code.
Build Professional Skills
If you can add “coding” to your skills list in your resume, then you are likely to earn 145% more than the average person (according to a UK study). With more and more importance being added to the digital world, being able to code will make you a person with in-demand skills.
You don’t need to flip to a technical role either, as coding can be used in almost any part of most jobs. For example, if you work in communications, being a coder means creating a system that will allow for a more streamlined communication system that fits your team’s structure. No need to use standard systems or hire someone to create something using your ideas. Instead, you can simply do it yourself.
Able To Create Your Own Website, App, Or Game
When you know how to code, creating online platforms becomes so much easier. You could use this information to create a website for your business, or you can use it to create something fun for yourself.
So many of us have exciting ideas about fun activities we do in our free time. Perhaps you love to garden, and want to share your experience with other green thumbs too? If you know how to code, you could create an app that allows people to share tips, show off their gardens, or discuss ways to keep plants alive.
Being able to create your own digital space can open you up to a world of people just like you, creating a community you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
Able To Offer Freelance Work
If you love the hustle and want more ways to create money flow, then learning how to code can open that door for you. In your free time, you can complete freelance work, and create websites, apps, or games for other people.
You can have fun creating unexpected digital experiences and earn extra money at the same time. Very few people know how to code, and yet it is one of the most fundamental skills in our society. This means you should have a large customer base to pick from, allowing you to choose work that sounds interesting to you.
A Great Hobby
It doesn’t matter if you are coding for yourself and your own website ideas, or if you are using this skill to bring in more cash. Either way, you will experience the amazing feeling of creating something and showing it to the world.
Watching as more and more people use the thing that you created, will give you an immense sense of joy. Seeing those numbers climb higher and higher as others find joy or understanding through your project will give you a feeling of pride like no other.
And on the other side of the coding world, creating something in itself will feel like an amazing accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if anyone else gets to see it – when your code runs smoothly and your creation functions as intended, the sense of achievement is immense.
Coding is such a rewarding experience, as you get to build upon your knowledge and watch yourself gain more and more confidence in your creations. Soon you will be coding everything in your life, even the grocery shopping list.
Able To Understand The Digital World
Arguably the most important part of coding is the knowledge you will gain about technology as it grows. Every year, more and more tech is being developed, and it can be extremely easy to fall behind the times.
Understanding coding will help you keep one foot in the door. Your knowledge will increase as the world’s knowledge increases, stopping you from getting stuck in the early digital age.
You will also gain a whole new perspective on the digital world, understanding the growing digital landscape. This means when new tech emerges, you will know its real worth. You will say with confidence if something is worth its salt or just a cash grab.
When people learn how to code, they start understanding the value of items they would have dismissed before. You start to understand how tech can make your life easier, and begin cultivating a collection of unusual devices, which other coders love and everyone else scratches their head at.
In reality, the real reason to learn code is because you want to. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a side hustle, are thinking of developing a game, or simply want to beef up your resume. No matter your reasons, you have found the right place to start.
Now it’s time to learn more!
The fundamentals of programming are the most important aspects of the subject. These areas are the program language, the data types, the conditionals, loops, and functions.
Understanding how all of these work, will give you the groundwork needed to create a stable code. We will explain each concept and give examples to help you understand the basics.
Understand The Different Languages Available
There are multiple different languages that you can use. We are going to go through the most popular ones, so this list will include the best options for new coders, but it isn’t a complete list.
Python is an advanced tool. It shouldn’t be used by first-timers, but once you get the hang of coding, you should jump over to this language.
Python is great for website and internet development. It’s easy to read, and easy to learn as long as you know the basics.
Java is where most people start. It is a high-level programming language that can be used for just about anything. Professionals tend to use Java to create software. If you plan on creating an app, you should use Java as most Android apps contain it as a core foundation.
Ruby is an open-source language, which means that it is open to the public. Open-source programs are normally free to use but can be modified by anyone. This means that people can hi-jack your software for malicious means. We suggest using Ruby as you start programming, but be wary of its features.
Also known as HyperText Markup Language, HTML is the standard markup language people use to create web pages. The software ensures that the formatting of your text and images are correct.
HTML is one of the easiest languages to learn, it’s free and can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
C languages is a middle ground programming language. Most people use it to develop low-grade apps, which don’t need a lot of modern accessories.
Some say that C Language is easy to master as you only need to learn 32 keywords. However, using such a small collection of words can be difficult in itself.
Understand Different Data Types
Data types are part of the languages of data. It tells the computer how it is meant to interpret the information given and action it as you desire.
Making sure you understand these different types will help you gather consistent data and create fewer errors.
Again, this is a list of the most common data types, not a complete list.
INT – Integer
INT is arguably the most common data format for numbers. It stores the numbers without decimal points. If you were dealing with a financial budget, $1.99 would not be accepted. It would have to be a whole number.
FLOAT – Floating-Point
FLOAT is another data format for numbers. This time, you can use a fractional component (a decimal point). The $1.99 example would be accepted if you used a floating-point data type.
Although most systems use int and floats if you need to create something which consistently gives out int formats, setting up that data type straight away will lead to more consistent data.
CHAR – Character
Every single letter, punctuation mark, symbol, or blank space is a character.
STR – String
A string is a sequence of characters. For example, a phone number is a string. It can be stored like “+1-555-888-3333” or like “155888333” and still be recognized as a string.
BOOL – Boolean
Now we are getting into some lesser-known but commonly used data types. Bools use a “true” and “false” format for data. They can help filter data to create clean flows. For example you could ask the program to organize your customer data into US customers and International customers – “If US based, then true”. This yes or no answering system can make filing simpler.
The list goes on, but those are the most commonly used data types that you can expect to see as you start coding.
Conditional statements are a coding method to help computers make decisions. For example, “IF >95 = ColorValue(Green)”. The “IF” allows the computer to consider if the statement is true or false using a boolean data type.
In our example, the computer considers if the number is greater than 95, and if it is greater than 95 the cell turns green.
You can make the conditions more complex too, leading to a chain of questions allowing the computer to sort, organize or flag up any data you ask it to.
Loops are when you allow the code to be run multiple times, searching for different values.
For example, you may create a coded email to send the same information to everyone on your email list, but change the names as you go.
“Dev_employees = Josh, Jess, Joseph, Jean
For employees in dev-employees:
The loop will go through everyone’s name until the loop is completed. It could be completed after a certain amount of time, after every value has been looked into, or until a personalized stop feature is triggered.
Functions are blocks of code that allow you to process one thing into another. Imagine a cow, this cow is our metaphor for a function. When a cow eats grass (the input), its body (the function) turns that grass into milk (the output).
A common way that functions are used is by greeting someone as they enter a website. When you log into a webpage, you may notice a little icon pop up saying “Hi [your name]”.
The website would have been triggered by your arrival (the input), searched your data for your name (the function), and addressed you directly (the output).
You can name your functions to make it easier to trigger them, and allow them to be triggered from other points in your program.
Tips For Beginners
Now you have wrapped your head around the basics, we want to offer some tips and advice. Take these nuggets of wisdom on board and refer back to them when you find yourself struggling.
Familiarize Yourself With Computer Architecture
As programming languages evolve, you can do more with coding without having to know as much. This concept is called abstraction, and it allows us to use complex or “high-level” tools by simplifying the process.
That doesn’t mean that you can start programming with little or no information though, it simply means you don’t need a master’s degree to understand the basics.
When you come across something unusual, most coders and programmers will use their base knowledge to navigate the more complex issues. Because of this, you still need to know about the general architecture of coding. Without this basic understanding, you can easily get lost in the jargon.
First, you should be aware of microchips. Microchips are small pieces of hardware that need transistors to function. A single microchip could have millions of transistors. If one melts, it could mess up the whole circuit.
Modern computers will have a CPU or a Central Processing Unit. It is a larger microchip that handles difficult tasks such as following conditional instructions.
Next is the RAM or Random Access Memory. This basically works like a short-term memory system. It will store bits of data as it comes in and is often used by older program languages such as C.
And last up on the “must-know” list is the hard drive. This is the long-term memory of your computer. Here your data is stored and will be saved even when you turn the computer off. If you only had RAM, then when the power goes, so does the data.
Familiarize Yourself With Data Basics
Data is heavily reliant on math. Although most of the work uses characters and creates scripts, you still need to create a formula for the computer to follow. Remember that the computer is reading 1s and 0s translated from your language program. They are only seeing numbers.
The most important data basics you need to be aware of are hypothesis testing, normal distribution, and simple linear regression. Let’s explain them briefly now.
Hypothesis testing is when you use statistics to decide if the data you have gathered is sufficient enough to support your hypothesis. Does the data match the theory? To do this, you need to have two hypotheses, your actual theory and a “null” theory, which means it doesn’t work.
Only one can be right. Next, you create a graph to note the data. After that, you analyze the data. And lastly, you see if the graph matches the theory or the null hypothesis more.
Normal distribution is a type of probability distribution. Half of the values should be lower than the average or mean, and half should be higher. The majority of the values are near the mean. Your results from the data are aiming to create a normal distribution, to show that most results follow a central trend.
Simple Linear Regression is when the data from variables comes back in a line. You look at the data between two variables and see how they interact with each other.
All of these are statistical mathematical equations or theories. Knowing how to deal with this data will help you understand how to code it.
Take Time To Understand How Programming Languages Work
We have already discussed the multiple different types of programming languages you could use. But before you start learning about one, you should consider how each of them works and which one is best for your project.
Let’s go through a brief explanation of what each popular programming language is good for.
Python is good for machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. It is often used by web developers and application creators.
R is another older programming language. It is used for data science, machine learning, behavior analysis, classification, and clustering.
C is great for games, the cloud, containers, and embedded systems.
Take Up HTML
The best way to learn programming is to join a course. An HTML course will cover all of the basics that you need to know and will cover the complex algorithms to get you ahead of the game.
You don’t need to go into a classroom to start learning, instead, you can take up online courses which you can study in your own time. Because you aren’t learning to get a degree, and just learning for yourself, it doesn’t matter how you get the information into your brain.
There are simple and free online courses all over the internet, like W3Schools, edX, and freeCodeCamp.
Having a step-by-step classroom experience will give you the time and attention you need to learn all of the little aspects of programming.
Practice Command Lines
Command lines are the instructions you give to the computer. We have used command lines above when we were giving examples, like this one – “IF >95 = ColorValue(Green)”.
When you are programming and creating code, you will find that some command lines will be used more often than others. If you practice these lines, you will become more familiar with them, and correct any mistakes as they come up.
One of the biggest issues that coders face is a random character out of place. Having an extra space, placing an additional full stop, or using British English instead of American English, is enough to ruin your command lines.
Practicing them will help you avoid these errors and spot them quickly.
We also suggest that you create a library of every command line you know, and organize it to be easily found on another day. Just as there is code you will be using often, there will be random command lines you barely ever consider.
Remembering these ones can be hard, and when you need to use them again, you could be spending hours trying to remember the process. Saving the command lines somewhere safe will stop you from scrambling for answers.
Learn How The Internet Works
No matter what type of programming you plan on doing, you will have to interact with the internet at some point. So it makes sense to take some time to understand how the internet works.
The internet is a global connection of computers – a global network. The computers allow themselves to communicate with each other when they enter the internet space and then start “talking” or transferring data.
They share this data in 1s and 0s. One of the computers (or people using the computer) will initiate a conversation – they are called the client. The one receiving the conversation is the server.
For example, if you typed “www.bing.com” into your search bar, your internet browser is starting a conversation with bings computers. The browser (and you) are the client, and bing is the server.
CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets, is what makes your webpage pretty. It isn’t a programming language as you can’t perform actions using it. However, using it can help you edit your webpage to look the way you want.
As with anything creative, the best way to learn about CSS is to play around with it. Once you have created a style, you can name it. Once named you can call this style from your HTML files, making it easier to add to your other programs.
Every HTML page you create will always default to a standardized styling, with CSS you can overwrite this and change all elements of a page. For example, the font, font color, background color, and alignment are all editable with CSS – the possibilities are endless. You can create a specific style which could be a button, elevating the background color and creating a shading effect to make it look like an actual button when really it’s just CSS.
One important tip with CSS is around overwriting your own styles. If you have an old style on your website and fancy changing it up, don’t delete it – it may come in handy later on. Instead, add ‘!important’ to the end of your style, this will mean that this is the preferred style for your webpage.
Now you know the basics, you can get started. Most people get an idea in their head about a new and exciting opportunity, and then they fail at the first hurdle – actually trying. Don’t be that person. Instead, leap into your interest and begin learning about programming.
This article is your first step forward. Don’t stop now. Sign up for a free course, and play around using open source language programs to get going. Then mess around and have fun.
You know enough about the programming world to jump in. Take a leap of faith and start creating.
The biggest struggle you will face while learning programming comes from the jargon. Today, we have broken down the important concepts of coding and sectioned them off into critical concepts for you to learn more about.
Knowing what data types are will help you learn how to create conditions. With conditions in place, you can pull a block of code together to create a loop.
Building up your understanding bit by bit will make the overall learning experience easier.
Remember to make a note of every command you learn, and store them away in an easy-to-locate folder. But the biggest thing to remember is that you’ll always be learning.
Whenever there is a command line that you can’t figure out, simply ask a search engine or watch a YouTube video. Even the professionals need to look it up every now and then.
I am Bijay Kumar, a Microsoft MVP in SharePoint. Apart from SharePoint, I started working on Python, Machine learning, and artificial intelligence for the last 5 years. During this time I got expertise in various Python libraries also like Tkinter, Pandas, NumPy, Turtle, Django, Matplotlib, Tensorflow, Scipy, Scikit-Learn, etc… for various clients in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Check out my profile.